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Note From the Editor
Welcome to the dog days of summer. August is here and this month is an important month for our brothers and sisters serving in the Coast Guard. Be sure to wish them a Happy Birthday on August 4th, and the same goes for the Marine Corps Reserve birthday on August 29th.
August 7th is Purple Heart Day, so be sure to shake the hand of one of America's wounded warriors and listen to their stories to learn more about the United States' oldest medal still awarded to service members.
In this month's Dispatches, we learn the story of the first Black soldier to receive the Medal of Honor. We also recount the USS Constitution's 1812 slugfest with the HMS Guerriere, the naval engagement that made America great again. From there, we dive into the urban legend about the military giving the boot to its lottery jackpot winners. Finally, we take a look at a reader-recommended book, a fascinating story about a refugee from Soviet Hungary who came to the US and served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army's quiet profession, the Special Forces.
Is there a military legend you want us to tackle? A story you want to look into? If you have any suggestions on topics, comments on stories, send me a message at Blake.Stilwell@togetherweserved.com.
1/ Profiles in Courage: Sgt. William Harvey Carney
2/ Claim Your Free Military Service Mini-Plaque!
3/ Battlefield Chronicles: The USS Constitution Captures HMS Guerriere
4/ Preserve Your Old Photos: Let Us Help for Free!
5/ Military Myth & Legends: Can You Be Too Rich for Military Service?
6/ Do You Still Have Your Boot Camp/Basic Training Photo?
7/ Distinguished Military Units: George Company, 3-1
8/ Have A Military Reunion Coming Soon?
9/ Why Air Force Legend 'Chappie' James Almost Shot Moammar Gadhafi
10/ Featured Military Association: Non-Commissioned Officer Association
11/ 7 Chesty Puller Facts That Explain Why Marines Love Him So Much
12/ TWS Locator Service
13/ The Mystery at Camp Le Rolland, Cambodia
14/ Book Review: Budapest to Vietnam
15/ TWS Bulletin Board
Profiles in Courage: Sgt. William Harvey Carney
Today, we may remember the 54th Massachusetts Infantry at the Civil War Battle of Fort Wagner from the 1989 film "Glory." The critically-acclaimed film was released more than 30 years ago, but it stands the test of time for many reasons.
The most important reason is that it's reasonably true to the history of the unit, with a few of Hollywood's usual dramatic licenses. The 54th Massachusetts was the first all-Black regiment raised in the Union to fight in the war. Though the movie was based on Robert Gould Shaw's letters to his family, all the Black characters are entirely fictional.
What they accomplished was not fictional, however, and neither was their tenacity and courage under fire. It was at the attack on Fort Wagner that one soldier, Sgt. William Harvey Carney became the first Black soldier to receive the Medal of Honor. He did it with his stalwart defense of the American flag.
Carney was born a slave in the area around Norfolk, Virginia, in 1840. When his family was emancipated, they moved north to Massachusetts. It was there that Carney secretly learned to read and write. When the Civil War broke out, he volunteered to fight and free those still in chains in the south.
The 54th Massachusetts was the second all-Black infantry unit formed by the Union Army during the war. It began recruiting troops outside of Boston in February 1863 under the command of Col. Robert Gould Shaw. Carney joined the unit within weeks of its formation, along with 40 other Black men who were dedicated to the cause of ending slavery by force.
Within a few months, they would get their chance. Just south of Charleston Harbor sat Fort Wagner, a heavily defended and well-armed base that had already repulsed one Union assault. Despite numerous feints and an artillery bombardment, the base still held on strong.
When the time came for another Union attack on July 18th, it was the 54th Massachusetts who led the way. It was a hazardous undertaking, bottlenecked by the sea, allowing only a 60-yard strip of land to approach the fort. Once there, they faced a 250-yard wall, surrounded by a moat and sharpened Palmetto logs.
After an eight-hour bombardment from the sea, the 54th led the advance on the base at nightfall. They made it about 150 yards from Fort Wagner's defenses when the Confederates lit up the night sky with gunfire and artillery. The U.S. Colored Troops even scaled the walls and managed to take the parapet of the fort but were repulsed after hand-to-hand fighting and close-range cannon fire.
Col. Shaw was killed trying to assault the parapet, and 270 soldiers from the 54th were killed, captured, or wounded. The Black prisoners of the Confederates were likely not well-treated by their captors if they weren't killed outright.
There were a number of standouts from the fighting. Early on, the 54th's color guard was killed in the unit's approach to the fort. It was an enlisted soldier, William Harvey Carney, who scooped up the American flag as the flag bearer succumbed to his wounds and carried the flag forward. Though wounded by several gunshots himself, he even carried the flag to the fort's walls during the doomed attack on the parapet.
Despite quickly losing blood and being near death, he planted the flag in the sand and positioned his body to keep it upright.
The importance of unit colors in combat during the Civil War cannot be understated. It was more than a symbol; men were trained to follow the flag into a blaze of gunfire and to rally around it. The presence of the unit colors kept the unit together in the melee of men and smoke. If the flag had gone down, the men might have thought the battle was lost, causing them to break formation and retreat.
When William Harvey Carney kept the flag high, it kept the unit together, enabling them to press the assault as two other Union units attacked from the other sides of the fort. He not only saved the lives of men from the 54th Massachusetts, he kept Confederates from moving men to repel assaults from the 6th Connecticut, 48th New York, 3rd New Hampshire, 76th Pennsylvania, and the 9th Maine regiments who were also in the fighting.
When he returned to camp, he reportedly said, "Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!" 60 days of constant bombardment later, the Confederates abandoned Fort Wagner.
For keeping Old Glory high in the air that night, Carney was promoted to Sergeant. The 54th Massachusetts' performance at Fort Wagner led the Union Army to expand recruitment for the U.S. Colored Troops, a strategy President Abraham Lincoln credited for securing the final Union victory in the Civil War.
In 1863, the Medal of Honor was just a year old. Many of these medals were awarded years after the deeds to receive them were performed on May 23, 1900, Sgt. William Harvey Carney received the Medal of Honor for his dedication at Fort Wagner and wore it the rest of his life.
Claim Your Free Military Service Mini-Plaque!
Have you claimed your FREE Military Service Mini-Plaque yet? This attractive custom presentation, which can be accessed via the 'Mini-Plaque" button on your Profile Page, contains a visual summary of your military service including service photo, ribbon rack, badges, and insignia.
Your Mini-Plaque is very versatile. It can be printed out on regular 8 1/2" x 11" photo paper as a 11"x 6" landscape print, or at any smaller size depending on the frame you choose. You can also upload your Mini-Plaque to your Mobile Phone, which is perfectly sized to display as a convenient Veteran ID or, if you use Facebook, you can upload this to your Facebook Page and display this as your Facebook Page Cover - a nice touch for Veterans Day!
Login to Together We Served today to view your FREE Mini-Plaque and add any information needed to complete.
Battlefield Chronicles: The USS Constitution Captures HMS Guerriere
Sometimes called America's Second War of Independence, the War of 1812 often finds itself a footnote in American history classes. The war didn't really change much in terms of lines on a map, but it did make one big change: Great Britain would think twice before it went pushing the United States around anymore.
The war was fought on both sea and land, but it was a naval engagement that shook the world almost as much as Washington's victory at Yorktown that secured American independence 31 years before. When the United States declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, many in the Royal Navy scoffed at the idea that British superiority of the seas could be challenged - but that was the whole point.
British ships had been seizing American merchantmen, boarding their vessels to impress American sailors into the Royal Navy, and making off with their precious cargo. President James Madison and the United States had to draw the line somewhere and demand their rights to the seas be recognized. It would be the United States' first declared war.
When the war broke out, the British navy had twice as many ships operating in American waters than the U.S. Navy had commissioned. Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton immediately ordered Commodore John Rogers to form a squadron of America's most powerful ship in New York and the USS Constitution to join it there from Annapolis.
It took three weeks for Capt. Isaac Hull to get the Constitution to sea. Off the coast of New York, he encountered a four-ship British squadron dispatched from Halifax to chase down Rogers. One of the ships, the HMS Guerriere, had strayed away from the main force and could not identify its friendly flotilla. The Constitution recognized both Guerriere and the British ships as hostile and kept their distance.
Having outrun the British, Hull set sail for Boston to replenish supplies and raid British shipping near the St. Lawrence River. The British continued its pursuit of Rogers' squadron, but Guerriere was detached to Halifax.
On August 19, 1812, the crew of the Constitution sighted Guerriere as it sailed for its home port. The Guerriere recognized the Constitution and, now that the odds were even, both ships cleared for action.
Guerriere's commander, Captain James Dacres, fired off the first shots of the engagement, but the broadside he fired at Constitution fell well short. All the better because if the British knew what would happen when they did hit Constitution, they might never have committed to battle. The two ships fired shots at each other for almost an hour as they tried to gain the upper hand in position.
Then, a British cannonball hit Constitution's hull and bounced harmlessly off into the sea. An American sailor reportedly cried out, "Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!"
After closing some of the distance between the two ships, Capt. Hull moved his ship to get within half-pistol shot range. The two ships fired into one another with broadside after broadside for 15 minutes. The Guerriere was no match for the Americans, with a thicker hull and heavier cannon, and its mizzenmast soon gave way.
As the Guerriere began to lurch into the sea, Constitution moved to cross Guerriere's bow and fired a raking broadside into the ship, which brought down the yard of the British mainsail. Hull attempted to repeat the maneuver when Guerriere's bowsprit got caught in the American's rigging. The two ships were locked together, but neither side could board the other across the tangled bow.
Guerriere got a few shots into the hull of the Constitution before the ships were free of one another, but the damage to Guerriere was done. The British ship lost its foremast and mainmast now too. Its bowsprit fell into the sea, and it was completely adrift. When Constitution moved to fire on it once more, the Guerriere fired a shot on the opposite side of its opponent, a signal of surrender - there was no flag left for the British to strike.
The encounter was the second battle of the War of 1812, and the Guerriere was unsalvageable, so the Constitution burned it in the water. No one in America was sorry to hear about its loss. Guerriere was one of the most reviled ships by American merchants, responsible for much of the pre-war harassment in North America.
Losing one ship was just a drop in the ocean, given the sheer size of the British Royal Navy, but captains of the Royal Navy were still shocked to learn the first naval victory of the war had gone to the Americans.
The victory also had a profound effect on American morale. The Constitution earned its nickname, "Old Ironsides," and went on to defeat four more British warships in battle: Java, Pictou, Cyane, and Levant. Its last combat duty came in 1853, capturing an American slave trader off the coast of Angola. It returned to Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1855 to end its career on the front lines.
Constitution remained undefeated, with a perfect battle record for all of its active combat service. Today it is the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy and the oldest ship of any type still afloat.
Preserve Your Old Photos: Let Us Help for Free!
Do you have old photos from your service days stashed away in a drawer or in a shoe box in your attic? Old photos fade with time and if they are not scanned and preserved digitally, they risk eventually being lost forever.
This is where TWS can help. We have just invested in a high quality Fujitsu book and photo scanner that can scan any size of photo or yearbook. As a service to our members, we would like to offer you a free photo scanning service for your most significant photos from your service which we will then return to you, in original condition, along with a CD containing your photo files.
In addition, we can upload your photos for you to your Photo Album on your TWS Service Profile which will also appear in your Shadow box and available to you to access or download at any time.
Military Myths & Legends: Can You Be Too Rich for Military Service?
One old urban legend that invariably finds its way into the barracks is the story about a friend of a friend (of a friend) who hit a lottery jackpot. When he finally got to pocket the massive sum of prize money, he also received an unexpected surprise: his separation paperwork.
Having too much money, the story goes, makes it unlikely that a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine will have any inclination to do their job, follow orders or even show up for work. This means the military has an unspoken policy of giving its suddenly wealthy troops the boot.
In a way, such a policy would make sense. In other ways, people don’t join the service solely because they need a job or career training. Some people join the military to serve their country because they believe in the mission of the armed forces or because it's an answer to a call of duty. No amount of money could replace that call to service.
Does being rich suddenly make people unfit for military service? No. Will the military kick them out anyway? No to that as well, with one caveat: the military might prefer if they separated, but it won’t force its troops out.
Military personnel have won big in the past. In 2016, a Coast Guard officer won $1 million in a Powerball drawing. A soldier from Fort Bragg won $2 million later that year. In 2017, another soldier won $5 million with a scratch-off ticket. Did they leave the military? Only one chose to leave the military. One served until retirement, and the other, Andrew Norberg, is still serving in the Coast Guard.
The soldier that won $5 million and chose his discharge papers was able to do so through a clause in his enlistment contract that allowed for a discharge under “unique circumstances.” The clause allows military members to voluntarily separate if it's in the best interest of their branch of service.
Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force regulations all have provisions for voluntary separation in the best interests of the branch, and the Marine Corps and Space Force will have them, too, being housed under the Navy and Air Force, respectively.
No matter how a service member comes into their newfound wealth, be it through Powerball winning, gambling in Las Vegas, or finding the lost Nazi train full of gold, they will all be offered the same choice: to stay in their original enlistment or commission or take a voluntary separation in the best interests of their branch of service.
Never has a service member been shown the door to the civilian world just for having a bit of good luck on lottery night.
Do You Still Have Your Boot Camp/Basic Training Photo?
Together We Served has a growing archive of more than 15,000 Boot Camp/ Basic Training Graduation Photos which we now display on your Military Service Page and Shadow Box. We also have a growing collection of Yearbooks which we will be made available on the site shortly.
We are still searching for Boot Camp/ Basic Training Photos and Yearbooks. So if you have yours available, please contact us at Admin@togetherweserved.com.
Either you can send us a scanned file of your photo or you can send it to us for scanning. We will add this for you to the Recruit/ Officer Training section of your Military Service Page.
All photos and yearbooks will be returned to you in the original condition along with a CD containing your scanned photo.
Distiguished Military Unit: George Company-3-1
The 1st Marine Division, the oldest and largest active duty division of the United States Marines, is perhaps best known by the nickname coined following World War II, "The Old Breed." With a long and distinguished history, no subordinate unit better reflects the honor and best traditions of the Marine Corps than the 3rd Battalion, G Company during the Korean War. George Company served gallantly spanning Inchon, Seoul, Wonsan landings, and Chosin Reservoir, pushing the limits of human endurance, but in the final days of the war would have to fight for their lives less than six miles from the site of the armistice, eerily reminiscent of World War I when soldiers were sent to their deaths up until the final moments of the war.
3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (3-1) was reactivated on August 4, 1950, for a rapid September deployment to Korea. The Marines of George Company were an uncommonly diverse cross-section of American society, small towns and big cities, some rich and some poor, coal mines and farming communities, a Harvard graduate and one with a sixth-grade education, veterans of WWII, volunteers and draftees. The speed of deployment meant that basic training was foregone and replaced instead by summer camp, an effort focused on as much physical conditioning as possible prior to embarking for Korea. In many cases, the men learned to fire their weapons on board the ship. However, for these men, it has been speculated that immense patriotism developed during World War II coupled with hardships endured during the Great Depression created a generation that knew and accepted hard times, engraining a sense of hard work, self-reliance, and patriotism that would be tested on the battlefield.
The men of George Company would be tested first in combat at Inchon, an amphibious October landing code-named Operation Chromite, with the objective of recapturing Seoul, the South Korean capital that had been lost to earlier enemy invasion. Landing through Blue Beach, Two George Company attacked inland, enduring house-to-house fighting and some of the battle's heaviest combat while suffering moderate casualties. Success at Seoul proved a major turning point in the war and caused widespread enemy retreat north, behind the 38th parallel.
With UN forces now poised along the 38th parallel, the Chinese government warned that any breach of this border would result in the commitment of twelve divisions (120,000 troops) to reinforce North Korean communist forces. Despite this threat, UN forces, including the 1st Marine Division, embarked for transport and a second amphibious landing at Wonsan on the east coast of Korea, deep behind the 38th parallel. As the east prong of a pincer movement alongside US 10th Army and ordered north to the Yalu River (the Korean border with China), the Marines were to link up with the US 8th Army advancing up the west coast. As a capstone by war planners, the campaign was popularized as "Home for Christmas"- but could not be more wrong.
Now the end of November, Marines fought their way north along the Main Supply Route (MSR), a 15-foot-wide roadway extending 78 miles from the coastal town of Hungnam to the Chosin Reservoir through mountainous and otherwise impassable terrain. The US 1st Marine Division occupied Koto-ri and established headquarters further on at Hagaru-Ri to support elements of the 5th and 7th Marines advancing on Yudam-ni. What they could not know is that two reinforced Chinese communist armies had infiltrated into North Korea weeks earlier as promised, moving at night and remaining hidden during the day. As the US 8th Army began its advance to the Yalu River, the Chinese swarmed UN forces, destroying four South Korean regiments and battering the 8th Army. Ordered to retreat, the 8th Army would undertake a six-week-long withdrawal resulting in 10,000 casualties, and in doing so, abandon forward US Marine positions to overwhelming communist forces. Following enemy engagements with elements of 5th and 7th Marines, the scale of the opposition became apparent, outnumbering US forces more than ten to one meanwhile, as Marines and soldiers of 10th Army dug-in temperatures plummeted as far as minus 540 F, conditions not seen for over one hundred years.
In just three days of combat, the Chosin Reservoir had become a virtual massacre with communist forces well-entrenched in the high ground that encircled the reservoir and lined the MSR. The best hope for UN forces was a coordinated withdrawal extending from Yudam-ni to Hagaru-Ri, Koto-Ri, and final extraction at Hungnam. Then located at Koto-ri, George Company was assigned to support a 250-man element of the British 41st Royal Marine Commandos in relieving Hagaru-ri, then oversee the evacuation of remaining troops. Identified as Task Force Drysdale, a convoy of 14 tanks and 150 trucks fought their way out of Koto-ri and toward certain death twelve miles away. Under continuous bombardment, the task force crept forward, arriving twelve hours later at Hagaru-Ri with George Company suffering 110 of the earlier 270 men killed-in-action. It is then that a LIFE magazine photographer inquired of one soldier, "What do you want for Christmas?", triggering the iconic response "Give me tomorrow."
To ensure the MSR remained open to remaining elements of 5th and 7th Marines withdrawing from Yudam-ni, control of East Hill was vital. Once under the control of US forces, communist units overran the position and were now the scene of fierce fighting. At dawn, George Company was ordered to take the Hill and, together with remnants of the original force, assaulted the position, the last line of defense for Hagaru-Ri. Inexplicably, the Company retained control and held for four more days against vastly overwhelming forces, enabling the evacuation of remaining marines and soldiers. Passing by East Hill George Company, Marines viewed a thousand Chinese bodies littering the rocky slopes. For actions during this campaign, two Marines of George Company were awarded the Medal of Honor, Captain Carl Sitter and Sergeant Harold Wilson.
Thirteen days after it began, the "Home for Christmas" offensive ended with the last US troops entering Hungnam. But for George Company, the men's time in hell was not yet over.
Twenty miles inland from the west coast of the Korean peninsula in the demilitarized zone separating North Korea and South Korea rests a hill with large granite boulders near its crest. Spanning July 24 to 27, 1953, this hill, then known as Boulder City, was the site of the final and perhaps fiercest battle of the Korean War. Located approximately six miles from Panmunjom and the signing of an Armistice on July 27th, this position had been under attack by communist forces for several months. However, as negotiators neared an agreement, the Chinese escalated fighting in an attempt to capture as much territory as possible, the potential impact of which has been argued since the war's end. In point of fact, it has been suggested that had Boulder City fallen, communists would have terminated negotiations and prolonged the war. Nonetheless, before dawn on July 24th, George Company-3-1 relieved elements of the 7th Marines and found itself again confronted by a reinforced Chinese regiment. Sergeant James Everson remembers, "the regimental chaplain was there to give us absolution- now we had good reason to be nervous."
Within the first few hours of the battle, George Company was down to 25% of its effective strength of 209, with 24 Marines missing in action. The Chinese artillery raining down on Boulder City was relentless, causing a large number of the company's casualties. One marine, John Comp, recalls, "Boulder City was just like the end of the world." At battle's end, these three nights of combat alone earned the Marines of George Company one Navy Cross, eleven Silver Stars, a wealth of Bronze Stars, and other awards for valor.
The Chosin Reservoir campaign is one of the greatest periods in Marine Corps history, heralded as upholding the highest standards of discipline and military conduct. Equally, just how the Marines of George Company retained control of Boulder City in the final days of the war is beyond our understanding. Arguably, a number of questions exist underlying decisions made and actions that were taken; why were forces at the Chosin Reservoir not withdrawn until weeks after the Communist infiltration was known, why did ROK negotiators boycott peace talks for the last two months of the war, why wasn't a cease-fire negotiated in the closing days of the war with a single article yet to be agreed… and others. Over seventy years later, we will never know these answers, but what we do know is that when their country called, scores of men stood up across the nation from diverse walks of life to be counted. Much like our heroes today, they didn't run from the fight but instead ran shoulder-to-shoulder into danger and certain death.
Have A Military Reunion Coming Soon?
TWS has nearly 2 million members who served in a wide range of units, ships, squadrons and duty stations. Get more people to your Reunion by sending your Reunion information to us in the following format and we will post it for free in our Reunion Announcements on Together We Served, in emails that go to our members and in our Newsletters.
Service Branch Reunion Applies To:
Your Reunion Name:
Associated Unit or Association:
Place Where Held:
Contact Phone Number:
Contact Email Address:
Why Air Force Legend 'Chappie' James Almost Shot Moammar Gadhafi
Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. was a lot of things over the course of his life: Tuskegee airman, Korean War fighter ace, the first Black four-star general in the U.S. armed forces - and the man who almost shot and killed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
In 1969, after years of training Black pilots during World War II and flying hundreds of combat missions over Korea and Vietnam, James was sent to Wheelus Air Base in Libya to command a fighter training wing.
Libya had been busy after World War II. After securing its independence from Italy, the country became a constitutional monarchy. Once its massive oil reserves were discovered, the once-poor nation began to flourish with its newfound wealth - most of which went to King Idris I.
Wheelus Air Base was a former Italian and Nazi airbase established during the war as an Allied base of operations in North Africa. It soon became the largest American military base outside of the United States. At its height, roughly 15,000 troops were stationed there. It was a significant base for the Military Air Transport Service and the Air Force's Strategic Air Command.
Relations between Libya and the U.S. were warm and healthy under King Idris, but discontent was brewing among the king's senior government leadership, especially with one ambitious officer, Col. Moammar Gadhafi. On Sept. 1, 1969, Gadhafi and his Free Officers Movement overthrew the king while he was on vacation in Turkey.
Anti-Western riots erupted throughout the country. Gadhafi expelled Libya's 12,000-strong Italian community and established the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, a "republic" with him holding most of the government's authority. About 4,000 Americans were still stationed at Wheelus Air Base at the time.
Before Gadhafi's coup, the United States had made a deal to withdraw from the base and turn it over to the Libyan government. Operations continued normally, as did the withdrawal agreement, even after the coup.
But Gadhafi wanted to take the Americans for everything they were worth, push them out of Libya faster than planned and force them to leave valuable materials and equipment behind, according to a story in Air Force Magazine.
That's how he ended up in a staring contest with James.
The soon-to-be dictator decided to harass the Americans by driving a column of half-tracks through Wheelus' base housing area at full speed. When James learned about what the colonel was doing, he shut the base gate down to prevent more havoc. Then, he walked to the barrier to meet Gadhafi.
Like something out of an old western, the Libyan strongman and the Air Force legend stared at each other across a patch of desert, pistols strapped to their hips, just waiting for the other to draw.
Gadhafi was a thin six feet tall, not a small man, but was dwarfed by James' 6-foot-5 athletic frame. As they began to speak, Gadhafi's hand started to move toward the grip of the "fancy" pistol strapped to his hip. James told him to move his hand away.
"If he had pulled that gun, he never would have cleared his holster," James said.
Gadhafi wisely backed down and removed the half-tracks, leaving James and the Air Force to complete the orderly withdrawal of American personnel and materiel from Libya. He went on to rule Libya until 2011, leaving behind a legacy of mismanagement and funding for international terrorism that has left the country in disarray in the years after his bizarre death at the hands of Libyan rebels.
James went on to command Military Airlift Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command and act as an adviser to Defense Secretary Harold Brown and President Jimmy Carter. He retired from the Air Force in 1978, one of the service's most storied alums.
Featured Military Association: Non Commissioned Officer Association
Hello from NCOA Headquarters!
The NCOA WWII War and Remembrance Program was one we started years ago. Unfortunately, it had to be suspended. We are now able to rejuvenate the program.
I am requesting you in some way support this very worthy program. For those that may not have or know of a Veteran that is eligible to receive the Medallion, support can still be made and we will assist in reaching out to those that are eligible to receive it. You do NOT have to be an NCOA member to participate. Please read and share the information.
Thank you for your support! If you need more information contact me at the information below.
7 Chesty Puller Facts That Explain Why Marines Love Him So Much
Even Chesty couldn't explain why he picked up the nickname. Born Lewis Burwell in 1898, the man who would retire as Lt. Gen. Puller almost denied the United States Marine Corps one of its most legendary heroes by trying to join the Army in 1916.
The Corps should hang a portrait of Martha Puller in the Marine Corps Museum for refusing to allow him to join the military before he was old enough.
Lewis was the kid who grew up listening to the romantic stories of the Civil War. These were not just stories about the big names of men who led armies and won battles. Puller grew up listening to the personal tales of the veterans who fought in those battles. He wanted to have stories of his own. He probably never thought he'd be the most decorated Marine ever - or that telling him goodnight would be a Marine Corps slogan for the next century (or more).
Here are just a few more facts about Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller that will explain the Corps' love for this one man.
1. He's Relatable to Every Marine.
No matter what kind of Marine you are, Chesty's been there. He's the Marine's Marine because he's been both officer and enlisted, served on both active duty and the Reserves and in peacetime and in war. Chesty Puller, who died in 1971 at the age of 73, did it all in his 37 years of service.
He not only worked his way up from private to lieutenant general; he had to earn a commission twice. He first attended Virginia Military Institute but wanted to get into World War I so badly that he enlisted and went to boot camp at Parris Island. He never made it to Europe, but he went to NCO training and officer candidate school. Despite pinning on Second Lieutenant, postwar force reductions meant he got bumped back to corporal and sent to the Reserves.
2. He Served in Four Wars.
Some historians tend to gloss over those years between World Wars I and II as the "interwar years" when it comes to the United States, but it was an important and busy time for United States Marines. Puller was sent to Haiti, where he fought some 40 battles with Haitian rebels and earned his promotion to Second Lieutenant.
Puller later was sent to the occupation of Nicaragua, where he earned his first two Navy Crosses fighting Sandinista rebels over some three years. He commanded Marines in China and in the United States before World War II, and the Korean War kicked off.
3. He Really Is the Most Decorated Marine.
Although he never was recommended for the Medal of Honor, the United States' highest award for valor in combat, he doesn't need one to be considered the most decorated Marine ever. Over the course of his four wars, countless engagements, and instances of solid leadership, he earned more than his share of chest candy.
He was awarded the second-highest award six times, five Navy Crosses and one Army Distinguished Service Cross, along with the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit with Combat "V," a Bronze Star with combat "V" and three air medals - just to name a few.
4. Chesty Is the Most Quotable Marine.
If not the most quotable U.S. military officer ever. This is saying a lot, considering U.S. military personnel used to say the coolest lines all the time, as if they had their own team of writers. None of them ever will come close to the bon mots Chesty Puller used to drop, even in official correspondence during a war:
⦁ "All right, they're on our left; they're on our right, they're in front of us, they're behind us ... they can't get away this time."
⦁ "Great. Now we can shoot at those bastards from every direction."
⦁ "Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines."
5. He Didn't Let His Fellow Marines Down.
Letting down a Marine was, in Puller's words, the worst thing you could do as a Marine. And when the stuff hit the fan, he really lived those words. At Guadalcanal, three companies of his Marines were cut off from the main force by a much larger Japanese force. Marines tried to break through to them, but some believed they were lost.
Nope. Puller went out to the beach to flag down the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Ballard and organized a relief force to land on the beach again. He also coordinated the destroyer's guns to shell the Japanese, allowing the trapped Marines enough latitude to make an escape. A week later, Chesty and his Marines came back to this part of the island and wiped out the Japanese defenders.
6. Chesty Puller Did Not Accept Defeat.
Later in the fight for Guadalcanal, Chesty's battalion of Marines and a battalion of soldiers from the U.S. Army's 164th Infantry Regiment fought and held Henderson airfield on Guadalcanal from a larger Japanese force. Despite being outnumbered, they held the field, inflicting a heavy toll of more than 1,400 casualties on the enemy.
The intensity of the fighting earned Puller his third Navy Cross. He recommended two of his own Marines for Medals of Honor during the firefight, one of them being Marine Corps legend John Basilone.
7. He Was Not Intimidated by Anything.
When Puller and his Marines landed at Inchon during the Korean War, the North Koreans held much of the peninsula. The United Nations forces were landing deep behind enemy lines and faced the possibility of being pushed back into the sea. The Marines didn't flinch and were moving and fighting within a day.
Looking at a potential combat death in the face didn't stop at Inchon. When the Marines advanced within mere miles of the Yalu River, North Korea's border with China, the Chinese intervened. A massive force of Communist soldiers surrounded the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir. Massively outnumbered, Puller was quoted as saying, "We've been looking for the enemy for some time now. We've finally found him. We're surrounded. That simplifies things."
It wasn't just bravado; the Marines fought their way south while putting so much hurt on the Chinese that nine out of the 10 attacking divisions never saw action again.
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The Mystery at Camp Le Rolland, Cambodia
By Major (Ret) Tom Burke
"There is still no evidence of direct American complicity in the coup."
Military Historian Max Hastings, 2018
It has been fifty years since that mission when our MIKE Force Company was sent to provide security for rebuilding a Special Forces camp in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. As we were about to set out, we were given an additional mission of finding some lost military hardware. Half a century has passed since we saw an abandoned Cambodian airfield, just across the border from the camp, light up in the middle of the night, since the elephant came rumbling through the jungle, since we were inspected by a US Air Force's reconnaissance jet, and since a machete-wielding Montagnard soldier saved my life. I remember it all like it happened yesterday.
On March 1st, 1970, 221 Company of the Pleiku MIKE Force (Detachment B 20, 5th Special Forces Gp.) received an Operations Order instructing us to provide security for the rebuilding of Special Force's camp at BuPrang. The camp had been pretty much destroyed during the North Vietnamese Army's siege, which started in late October and ended in early December 1969.
The MIKE Force (Mobile Strike) was a light airborne infantry unit composed, in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam, of Montagnards tribal members, commonly referred to as "Yards." Most of these fighters came from the Rhade and Jarai tribes.
"The Montagnards? They were caught in the middle; between the US and the Vietnamese, between the Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, (VC)". They were hated by the South Vietnamese, who considered them savages. The Yards hated the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese government for the way they treated them. "Their most significant common traits were a deep hostility toward the Vietnamese and a strong desire to be left alone."
With the introduction of US Special Forces into the Central Highlands along the borders of Cambodia and Laos in 1962, the Montagnards developed a unique relationship with their green-hatted friends. "…The hill people…developed a deep and lasting affinity for the Special Forces soldier that was genuinely reciprocated. These primitive people responded to the kindness and consideration shown to them with uncommon loyalty".
These indigenous members of the unit were hired, trained, and led by US Army Special Forces. The Yards grew up in the jungle, living a nomadic "slash and burn" lifestyle. A tribal community would settle an area and clear the vegetation by hacking and burning it away. They would then farm the land until the soil was no longer productive. Then they would move to another area and repeat the process. Our Montagnard comrades lived and played in the jungle. When on an operation, I ate what they ate. There were many meals that I was afraid to ask what am I eating.
On a deployment, if they were "loose and goofy," I was somewhat relaxed. When they became quiet and cautious, my "pucker factor" was high. Not enough can be said about their fighting abilities or their loyalty to US Army Special Forces.
While the exact origins of the MIKE Force are disputed, it was activated sometime in the mid-1960. Each Corps had its own MIKE Force, which was responsible for the Special Forces requirement of that Corps.
Additionally, a MIKE force was stationed in Nha Trang (Nha Trang is a coastal resort city on the South China Sea.). They were a reaction force for the whole of Vietnam. Nha Trang was also the location of the headquarters of the 5th Special Forces Group.
The first II Corps MIKE Force operation as occurring in February 1965 at Vung Ro Bay, Vietnam, about 80km north of Nha Trang.
During my time in Vietnam (1969-70), we had three primary missions, Reconnaissance in Force, as a Reaction Force, and Special Missions. In a Reconnaissance in Force operation, a company or battalion was given a "box" on a map and told to find out what was there. Our AO's were almost exclusively along the borders of Laos and Cambodia. There were never friendly personnel in our "box." The Reaction Force's mission was to help defend the A-Camps. During my tour, we participated in the defense of Ben Het, (A-244)13, Bu Prang (A-236), and Dak Seang (A-243). Special Missions were classified operations tasked from the Corps or higher.
In Pleiku, The MIKE Force consisted of three infantry battalions; a fourth battalion was located in Kontum. Each battalion had three infantry companies. Each company had an HQ element and four rifle platoons. There were approximately 120 Yards in each company. Usually, a first lieutenant was the company commander, and the NCOs were the platoon leaders. As a light airborne infantry unit, the company's weapons were M-16s, M-60 machine guns, a 60mm mortar, and LAWs (Light Antitank Weapon, this could also be used against bunkers and buildings.)
I always tell friends that I was "volunteered" into the MIKE Force. I had been working at the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam's RECONDO School as a Special Forces Medical instructor and as a reaction force medic. When a reaction force was sent out to assist a reconnaissance team in trouble, I was their medic.
In late June of 1969, the siege of the Special Forces camp at Ben Het, which started in February of 1969, continued. Ben Het is located at the point where Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos meet. It sits aside an exit from the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the NVA's logistical Base Area - 609
I was "volunteered" to go to the MIKE Force. I didn't like to be "volunteered." I had volunteered for the Army in 1966. Then I volunteered to become a paratrooper, then Special Forces. This led me to volunteer for Vietnam.14 The MIKE Force had taken a lot of causalities and was in need of medics with combat experience. At that time, I was the only medic at RECONDO School who met that criteria. Off I went. In less than 24 hours, I was with the 2nd MIKE Force battalion. I thought I was going to be a battalion medic. Much to my surprise, I instantly became an infantry platoon leader in the battalion's 221 Company.
Once in the MIKE Force, "I volunteered" to stay on. By November 1969, I was the senior man in the Company, and in accordance with the unofficial policy, I was the Company commander. This unofficial policy was intended so that the "Yards" had a leader that they knew and trusted15. In September 1969, I received a new partner SP-5 Ronnie Nash. Ronnie had extended his tour in Vietnam so he could serve with Special Forces. This was a policy implemented by MACV. Ronnie had come from an engineer unit with no Special Forces training.
He was a quick understudy. Until March 1970, Ronnie and I would be the only two Americans with the company. Occasionally we would receive a 2 or 3 man US Artillery Forward Observer team.
That November, I lead the Company into the siege of Bu Prang. I ran the company with Ronnie and a 3 man US Forward Observer Team. The battalion dug in on a hilltop about 2 kilometers south of BuPrang. From there, we conducted offensive operations into the trail networks hidden by the thick jungle. I stayed as the Company commander until my last operation when CPT Gordon Vogel joined us. Gordon was a member of the Florida National Guard. He had volunteered for active duty with Special Forces in Vietnam. He was an experienced infantry officer, and he been the 2nd Battalion's commander during the siege of Bu Prang. We had become good friends from our "stand-down" times.
Also assigned to Det. B-20 were members of the Australian Training Team Vietnam (ATTV). Most of these soldiers were from the SAS, Special Air Service, Australian Special Forces. Some of them had fought the communist insurgency in Malaya and Borneo. All were well versed in jungle warfare. They are the cousins of Britain's famous Special Air Service.
Our Australian counterparts were a cast of characters, some, ‘'often larger than life". There was one major; "…he always rode helicopters with his feet on the outside skids. His combat kit was a torn T-shirt, an M-16, and a Foster's Lager (beer); that's how he went in, and that's how we brought him out…he was a mean sonofabitch!"
The Viper Den, the RF-101 Voodoo Exposure, and the Thermite Grenades.
A last-minute change to the Operations Order sent us about 15 kilometers southeast of BuPrang to find some missing military equipment. This was a Search and Recovery mission. There was a circled X on the briefing map. For the first time, we carried thermite grenades. These were for the destruction of the equipment. Thermite burns around 4,000F and will melt most metals. Three days were wasted covering about 12 square kilometers of triple canopy jungle. The triple canopy jungle consisted of brush and vines up to eight to ten feet in height. Then there was a middle layer of trees again with vines. Finally, the upper canopy was a variety of different species of tall trees. Trying to move through this dense wall of vegetation was at times impossible. Trying to find the missing item that fell into the same category, impossible.
After reporting our fruitless search, we were ordered to extend our search. We were told was to keep looking, "You'll know the object when you see it." An additional two days were spent searching, but nothing was found.
The Viper Den
We came across a huge sinkhole with a twenty-foot vertical shaft in the middle of the jungle during the extended search. I thought that this would be a good cache location and decided to investigate. I descended into the shaft on a thick vine.
Once I got down into the cavern and, having looked around, I backed up. I was reaching behind me with my left hand to find the large flat rock I had seen as we entered. As I turned back around to my front, there was Y-Tote, my Jarai company commander, running at me with a raised machete. In a picosecond, I saw my whole life pass by. Y-Tote grabbed my jacket's collar and threw me forward. Turning back around, Y-Tote was standing there and shoved an almost behead viper into my face. He had a big shit-eating grin on his face for saving my life. (Reaching back, I was about to put my hand on top of the viper.). I was so scared and surprised that I ran straight up the vertical shaft to the roaring laughter of the Yards.
The Voodoo that Flew Over the "Moons"
On the second day of our journey, returning to our original Area of Operations (AO), we came to the large flat rolling hills that are found in southern II Corps. These are bald hills with knee-high grass. They can be 1-4 or more kilometers long and half as wide. They are separated by a triple canopy jungle, which can be 1-2 kilometers in width.
While crossing one, I turned around to look at the formation. I noticed in the distant sky a black smoke trail. A few minutes later, I looked back and recognized it as an RF-101 Voodoo, a USAF reconnaissance jet. In the nose was a huge camera. The jet flew so low that I could see the camera's shutter opening and closing. As it flew over, I saw the pilot, visor down and mask on, looking down at us. He made a racetrack and came back for another look. We did not have the ground-to-air radios, so communications was impossible. He then came back for a third look. That is when the light bulb in my head turned on, "He doesn't know who we are!" I thought. As he came in, Captain Gordon Vogel and I turned our back to the aircraft, and only as an American GIs would do, we "mooned" the pilot. Coming around on his fourth pass, he dipped the left wing, and looking down, gave us a hand salute and then rocked the wings as he left. The pilot gave the Voodoo some gas, and with a burst of black smoke and some flame from the exhaust, headed directly towards the Cambodia border.
I like to think that our naked butts became pin-ups in some USAF photo interpretation office. Afterward, Vogel and I were surprised that we never said a word to each other but had simultaneously decided to "moon" the pilot.
Today I'm sure that the aircraft's target was Camp LeRolland's airfield. This makes sense based on what we witnessed a few days later.
The Thermite Grenades
Our route crossed another rolling hill that led, on the downward sloping side toward the jungle's tree line. As the point or lead platoon headed down the slope, they came under small-arms fire. Immediately, the platoons on the left and right maneuvered into envelopment or a pincer movement toward the point of contact. The lead platoon laid down a base of the fire. With the three platoons firing into the tree line, whoever was there withdrew back into the jungle.
We set up a perimeter and started searching for the enemy. Very soon thereafter, we found a cache of mortar rounds, uniforms, ponchos, blankets, and thousands and thousands of loose AK-47 ammo lying in a large pit.
We let the Yards pick through what we had found. When they were finished, we used some C-4 explosives to destroy the mortar rounds. Now the question was: "how do we get rid of the loose ammo?"
Vogel and I thought we should use the thermite grenades on the ammo. We ignored SP-5 Ronnie Nash's advice against doing this. We placed whatever clothing was leftover on top of the ammo. Then, standing on opposite sides of the pit, we each tossed in a grenade.
DUH! Within 10 seconds, the rounds started cooking off. Gordon and I dove into the ground, trying to become moles digging into the hard red clay. We stayed in that position, on our bellies, for about fifteen minutes as the exploding ammo whizzed all around us. In the background, I could hear Ronnie Nash and the Yards laughing their asses off at our predicament. They were smart enough to move far away before we started. Well, at least the ammunition was turned into a slag pile.
The "Villa," believed to have been built by the French, was located about 9.5 kilometers east of the SF camp at BuPrang. No one seems to know who owned it. I'm guessing it was built in the 1920-30s. The walls were 12+ inches of concrete. With no signs of agriculture activity, I believe that it was used as a hunting lodge.
As the photo shows, there were many previous "arguments" over ownership. We also had to evict the tenants, maybe a squad. They were last seen heading west, crossing the Military Demarcation Line into Cambodia. During our assault, we used two LAWs for our fire support. I told the Yards to aim at the openings. I was lucky they hit the building.
We dug in around the building in old foxholes. I set my CP on the second floor, looking to the west, into Cambodia. It soon proved to be the right location. We used the Villa as our patrol base for the next two days.
Soon after we had cleared and secured the building and perimeter, my oldest Yard, Y-Bai, a platoon sergeant in his fifties, came and asked if he could have the banister. (Inside the house, there were beautiful spiral staircases leading to the second floor.) I said sure and figured he wanted it for firewood. Nope. He took the banister apart, cut it into about 6" sections, and distributed it. Then he and the other Yards started carving each section. They were making pipes. Apparently, they recognized the wood as excellent for pipe making. The lesson learned here; nothing went to waste with the Montagnards.
Two months earlier, at the village of Plei Morong, when VC initiated a night attack by stampeding water buffaloes at the perimeter. The Yards shot at the buffaloes first. The next morning at first light, they asked if they could have the carcasses. Sure I said, I was angry with the village chief for not providing us with any warning of the previous night's attack. I hoped the loss of the animals would be a lesson to him; it wasn't. I told the Yards that we had to move ASAP; in less the ninety minutes, those animals were cleaned down to the bone. It was amazing to watch how they organized and distributed the remains. As I said, nothing ever goes to waste with these mountain people.
The Enemy Elephant
During the second day at the Villa, I took a patrol across the Military Demarcation Line and toward the border. We got down into the triple canopy that is between the bald rolling hills surrounding BuPrang.
As we were moving, it suddenly sounded like a freight train was coming. The Yards were spooked! They started spreading apart as the noise got louder. Well, there goes the patrol's formation, I thought. All I heard was the breaking brush and the snapping of trees. Suddenly, an elephant appeared with a lone figure riding on top. This guy slowed the beast down to a sauntering walk. I could see that he was eyeballing us. He gave me a sneer when I looked at him. I wanted to stop the elephant jockey, but the Yards wanted nothing to do with the beast he was riding. The driver just sped up and turned west back towards Cambodia.
Later I found out that the Yards were very superstitious about meeting elephants in the jungle (I never fully understood why.) Then they told me that the guy was probably a VC/NVA out to find us. The Yards wanted nothing to do with him or his elephant.
They were afraid of what the beast might do if we took the handler as a prisoner. Thinking about it later, I realized that they were probably right. To take that beast down, we would’ve had to use an M-60 and a LAW.
In July 1966, the CIA had identified Camp LeRolland as a transshipment point. "It was supplied from Camp Le Rolland, thence through, and to Buon Y Miar Klang. Supplies were carried on elephants to the camp."
Our Second Night at the Villa
As noted, our CP was on the second floor, looking to the west into Cambodia. Just after midnight, security awoke me and told me to look at the "Lights." Peering over the windowsill, I was shocked to see lights across the border. We went to 100% alert and extended our listening post out about a kilometer.
My map showed the abandoned French airfield at Camp LeRolland that was just across the border. About 2 kilometers inside, Cambodia was lit up. Being almost 10 kilometers south of the airfield, we could see that the whole length of the 3,800-foot runway was awash with man-made illumination!
Our only communication was with Bu Prang. I radioed them and reported the activity. They could not see the airfield from the camp since they were at a slightly lower elevation. They contacted the B-Team, B-23, in Ban Me Thuot. The B-Team knew nothing and just told me to "Observe and Report."
Around 00:30, a small silhouette was visible landing, and occasionally an aircraft's sounds were audible. Now this continued, a single landing and takeoff, about every 20-30 minutes, for the next 4-5 hours, until just before Beginning Morning Nautical Twilight. Then there was SILENCE, and when the lights went out, DARKNESS returned to the jungle's landscape.
I expected something to happen around sunrise, but nothing did. Both the camp and the B-team (B-23) had no information about the activity we had seen at LeRolland.
Right after sunrise, we left the villa. I wanted to put some distance between that place and us. It was less than 10 km to Bu Prang, so we covered this distance rather quickly. After we closed on the camp, we resumed our original mission of providing security.
What did we witness at Camp LeRolland, Cambodia? An Analysis.
It's 50 over years since this incident occurred, and information has been declassified.
Around the time of our observation, Prince Sihanouk, the leader of Cambodia, would be overthrown in a bloodless coup (March 1970), and the US-friendly prime minister (LT General) Lon Nol came into power. Soon Lon Nol was asking for US support to rid the country of the NVA. They, the NVA, occupied all of Cambodia's border provinces with South Vietnam. Just north of the LeRolland airfield was the NVA's logistical Base Area - 740, "This was a major area in Cambodia along the Darlac, Quang Duc Province border…" that was used by NVA transportation units as a transshipment point for supplies destined for South Vietnam from Cambodia. This location was responsible for Infiltrating supplies and soldiers into the Darlac and Quang Duc provinces of South Vietnam. In the same CIA report referenced earlier, Camp LeRolland, in February 1967, is again identified, "…A convoy of 15 GMC trucks carried 22 tons of rice, 60 sacks of dried fish, and 20 tins of fish sauce from Camp LeRolland to Buon Mour."
Author Daniel Ford in his 2018 book, "Cowboy: The Interpreter Who Became a Soldier, a Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam," points out that Camp Le Rolland was used as a training area for FULRO in the early 1960s.
In 4-6 weeks, the US and South Vietnam forces would invade Cambodia in an attempt to force the NVA out (30 April 1970). Reinforced elements of the US 4th Infantry Division would assist the South Vietnamese Army in Operation "Binh Tay" against the NVA's logistical Base Area -740.
Were these aircraft part of the April invasion? I doubt it due to the secrecy involved in the planning. The planning was "word of mouth only" in both the US and Vietnamese governments. South Vietnam's Vice President, Nguyen Cao Ky, twice secretly visited Lon Nol in early April 1970.
Was this a staging for friendly elements of the Cambodian Army (FARK/FANK) south of this base area to support the upcoming invasion? That is another possibility. But the FARK was not a strong military force. "The Cambodian Army has with some exceptions performed poorly against communist forces. Its morale is still generally high, but it presently is manifestly incapable of resisting anything more than small-scale attacks, and a lengthy period of training will be necessary before it will be an effective fighting force."
One possible Cambodian fighting force that could have been involved is the Khmer Serei. "Members of both the Khmer Kampuchea Krom (Khmer Krom) and the Khmer Serei were trained by the US military for clandestine operations during the Second Indochina War as part of MIKE Force and were partly financed and armed by the Central Intelligence Agency. At their peak in 1968, the Khmer Serei and related forces were thought to number up to 8000 men." Taylor Owen's analysis of the USAF's bombing of Cambodia ("Sideshow? A Spatio-Historical Analysis of the US Bombardment of Cambodia, 1965-1973") quotes former CIA Director William Colby, "Lon Nol may well have been encouraged by the fact that the US was working with Son Nhnoc Thanh (From 1955 -1959 Thanh organized a guerrilla war campaign against Sihanouk. In 1956 with US aid, he created the Khmer Serei. In the early 1960s, US Special Forces began recruiting the Khmer Serei into its CIDG program. It is believed they assisted Project Gamma's intelligence operations in Cambodia.), the obvious conclusion for him…was that he would be given US support." Owen continues quoting Kiernan "there is, in fact, no evidence of CIA involvement in the 1970 events, but a good deal of evidence points to a role played by sections of the US military-intelligence establishment and the (US) Army Special Forces. Robert Gillespie wrote in "Black Ops Vietnam, The Operational History of MACVSOG" that: "One of the covert operations run by the 5th SFG in South Vietnam was Project Gamma, an intelligence operation…whose mission in 1969 was to confirm the cooperation between Prince Sihanouk and the North Vietnamese." "One of the most secret (special operations) was Project GAMMA, a unilateral, clandestine intelligence collection operation targeted against NVA/VC base areas in Cambodia and the Cambodian government's complicity with the NVA/VC forces." "Soon Project GAMMA was producing 65 percent of the information on NVA locations and strengths in Cambodia and a full 75 percent of the information on NVA installations."
Matthew Jagel writes in "Son Ngoc Than, The United States, And the Transformation of Cambodia" that "What is clear is that the Khmer Serei was a highly respected and utilized force under the direction of American Special Forces during the war. Thanh was crucial in the recruitment of Khmer Serei to the American cause, and he was also a key figure, along with American officials, in the coup that unseated Sihanouk." "The first noted discovery of Khmer (CIDG) soldiers in Phnom Penh was by a correspondent who had spent years in Vietnam…A second correspondent reported speaking with a Khmer soldier who told him he had been in Phnom Penh since March. (1970)".
Was this a SOG/CCS operation? Probably not. There were four hundred and fifty-four (454) "Salem House" operations in Cambodia in 1969. Robert M. Gillespie writes in "Black Ops Vietnam…" that "During the 1969 sieges of BuPrang and Duc Lap Special Forces Camps in the Central Highlands, MACSOG was tasked with locating PAVN (NVA) artillery positions in Cambodia. Reginald H Brockwell writing about "Battle of LZ Kate" wrote, that after the siege of Kate, while in Ban Me Thout, "SGT Dan Pierelli (CPT William Albracht's SF NCO during the siege of and the Escape and Evasion from Firebase Kate) learned that the Studies and Observation Group (SOG) Command and Control South had teams operating secretly in Cambodia near Kate and were aware of the situation."
The least plausible explanation is that this was an operation by the North Vietnamese or Cambodian Air Force. There are two reasons that either of these Air Forces. The air forces of both countries did not have that type of airlift and surge capacity. What we witnessed was a constant flow of planes at the rate of 2-3 aircraft per hour for 4-5 hours. Our airborne and ground-based radars would have noticed any North Vietnamese and Cambodian air activity. "Some use might be made of an airlift, although resort to such a procedure would be highly unlikely, considering allied air superiority."
Four months after the siege, what was the condition of the airfield and the camp? In November 1969, during the siege of Fire Support Base Kate, southeast of BuPrang, Special Forces Captain Bill Albracht had to declare a "Tactical Emergency" to silence the 130mm guns at Camp Rolland. The US Defense Attaché Office in Phnom Penh reported the effectiveness of the bombing; "On 22 November 1969, We were flown from Phnom Penh to Sen Monorom airfield, northwest of Dak Dam, and proceeded to Dak Dam by convoy, one hour and twenty minutes en route. It seems that the village and the adjacent military outpost, Camp Le Rolland, had been plastered by a series of air raids from about mid-October until 18 November. It was probably VNAF or, possibly, 7th U.S. Air Force aircraft making the attack. They had pretty well blasted the village, including the school, and virtually destroyed Camp Le Rolland; they'd used 500 or 1000 pound bombs, napalm, and staffing to boot…Commissioner Gorham of the ICC (the Canadian and a strong supporter of the U.S. position) asked most of the questions, including those concerning the possibility of the Communists using the area in and around the village to emplace artillery for firing across the border…The US Air Attaché …Did find artillery emplacements."
Today, I believe that mission of the RF-101 was to ascertain the runway's condition. This was, and still is, a 3,800- foot dirt strip.
When we returned to Pleiku, no one seemed interested. The C-team S-2 (Intelligence), which was located directly across the street from the MIKE Force compound, never asked any questions.
What Did We Witness?
I think what we witnessed was the early movement of Khmer Kron / Khmer Serei troops into Cambodia. In "253. Memorandum From the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon" Kissinger recommends under "Cross-border operations," "Khmer Krom and Khmer Serai Deployment—There are 3,500 Cambodian ethnics forces now in South Vietnam equipped and trained. They are part of the Special Forces. Lon Nol asked for them, and Ambassador Bunker recommends that four battalions of them be airlifted to Phnom Penh with their equipment. They would strengthen Cambodian forces at Phnom Penh and have an important desirable psychological effect in Cambodia. They lack logistical support, however, and we will have to arrange to provide it. This can be done through the South Vietnamese".
I believe, based upon the US's military (Special Forces) and political (CIA's) involvement with the Khmer Serei, these were what landed at Camp LeRolland. US airlift assets facilitated this movement. My years as a paratrooper tell me that the sounds we heard came from C-130's reversing their propellers upon landing. The government in Saigon and at the US National level, both political and military, never expected that three Americans and 100+ Yards would be in a position to witness the activity at the airfield.
Why the secrecy? The only plausible answer is "deniability" of US involvement. SOG and the USAF were conducting covert operations in Cambodia at this time. The open involvement of US Forces would occur on April 30th, 1970
We returned to Pleiku around the 20th of March 1970. We were told that the battalion would be converted into a Regional Forces / Popular Forces (RF/PF) unit on 27 March.
I didn't know at that time, but this was my last MIKE Force operation. My DEROS (Date Estimated Return from Over Seas) was approaching; the year had passed very quickly. Then the NVA launched their Spring Offensive.
On April 1st, the NVA initiated their Spring Offensive; in the Central Highlands, their objective was the Special Forces Camps at Dak Seang and II Corps' northernmost camp, Dak Pek.
The 2nd MIKE Force battalion knew the area well. Six months prior to this offensive (October 1969), we had been deployed west of Dak Seang along the Laotian border to conduct a Reconnaissance in Force operation48 concentrating around the Dak Rolong River Valley. We found a hornet's nest of several battalion-size base camps under construction.
Soon after the start of this April offensive, most all of the II Corps MIKE Force was involved as a Reaction Force for the defense of Dak Seang. Once inserted, the battalions were pinned down on the LZ outside of the camp.
I was told that I was too "short" to get into this fight. But, no one ordered me not to go. With the effort to support this operation, I was sort of forgotten. The detachment's administration section hadn't officially given me my DEROS date yet.
After a couple of days helping in the compound, I decided to get up to Dak Seang. It was simple, catch a chopper from Pleiku to Dak To then locate a chopper going into Dak Seang.
I found one and spoke with the pilot. He told me that he was going in fast and wasn't landing, but I was welcome to kick out the ammo and water cans then jump after them. "Sure," I said.
As the Warrant Officer was doing the pre-flight checks, I was spotted by Captain Gordon Vogel, who said: "What the fuck are you doing here? Get off; you're not going." This led to a very heated argument. Then he put his arm around my shoulder and said, in a fatherly fashion, "Tom; you're gonna get yourself killed, now go home." Something clicked; I had given it my best shot. I said. "Ok." In retrospect, I know that Gordon probably saved my life that day. That was the last time I ever saw of Gordon. I heard that he returned home to Florida and continued his service in the National Guard.
SP-5 Ronnie Nash was promoted to Staff Sargent. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions at the siege of Dak Seang. Ronnie died in 2019 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Hopping a chopper back to Pleiku, I got back to the MIKE Force compound late that afternoon. I went into Big Marty's Team House; I was greeted by a "Where the hell have you been? You are ten-day past your DEROS." With President Nixon's "Vietnamization" Policy, American tours were shortened. I headed home.
When I finally reached Ft. Lewis, WA, and was discharged, my DD-214 listed my total time of service as 3 years, 6 months, and 14 days.
The 6 months came from an extension of service to serve in Vietnam. The 14 days? It seems that I was 14 days past the end of my enlistment and my DEROS. I'd make it home for my 23rd birthday.
The mission to Bu Prang 50 years ago was my last one. Someone once said: "The MIKE Force? You're absolutely insane."49 That's 100 percent true. Some crazy, unimaginable events occurred in the Central Highlands of Vietnam when we fought alongside the Montagnards half a century ago.
Captain Mike McCarten, USN, (Ret.)
LTC Rick Dyer, USAFR, (Ret.)
Captain Bill Albracht, US Army, The Hero of FSB Kate, and a member of the Kontum MIKE Force.
1st Lieutenant Dale Abbuhl, US Army, the former MIKE Force assistant adjutant and the finance officer.
Mike, Rick, Bill, and Dale, Thank You for your help and encouragement in writing this true adventure story.
Tom Burke, the author, is a retired Army major who spent fifteen years in Special Forces. He now resides in Northwest Montana.
Book Review: Budapest to Vietnam
By Colonel Nicholas Hun & Michael Jewell
Today, an estimated 200,000 U.S. military members are not actually citizens of the United States. They join for many reasons; a pathway to citizenship, learning new skills, or just being part of the camaraderie of their respective services. It's nothing new; foreigners have been joining the armed forces since the birth of the nation.
Times were no different during the Vietnam War. Many noncitizens joined to fight, and fight they did. One of those came from an unlikely place: Hungary. From the end of World War II until 1989, Hungary was part of the Warsaw Pact, a country dominated by the communist Soviet Union. But just because the country was under Communist control doesn't mean the Hungarian people were all for it.
One of those Hungarians was Nicholas J. Hun. Hun's family moved from Hungary to the United States in search of a better life and a better future. He was Hungarian by birth but was raised on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio. At the time, Cleveland was one of the most diverse cities in America, and Hun learned how to interact with people from all walks of life, a soft skill that would help him in his future career - in the U.S. Army Special Forces.
"Budapest to Vietnam" is Hun's story about his time serving with the 5th Special Forces, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and 190th Assault Helicopter Company during the Vietnam War, where he served two tours.
Hun originally enlisted in the U.S. Army but was soon commissioned as an infantry officer in March 1966. After commanding a Special Forces detachment in Germany, he was sent to Dong Xai and later, Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Dong Xai was the site of an epic slugfest between Navy Seabees and Green Berets from Detachment A-342 in 1965.
The 1965 Battle of Dong Xai had cleared the way for the communist insurgent Viet Cong to move significant amounts of men and material into South Vietnam. By the end of that year, the VC had more than 24,000 soldiers operating in the country, and the emboldened North Vietnamese Army had five battalions in South Vietnam.
This was the area Nick Hun was sent into with the 5th Special Forces in 1967.
"Budapest to Vietnam" is Hun's account of his family's escape to the west, including living in refugee camps as a young child. He takes readers through his years growing up in Cleveland and is a tip of the hat to everyone who helped him along the way. It also, of course, details his time in-country during the Vietnam War.
The book is a highly readable and interesting account of the American immigrant experience during the Cold War and a rare glimpse into the life of America's "quiet professionals": the U.S. Army Special Forces.
You can pick up a copy of Nicholas Hun's "Budapest to Vietnam" on Amazon for $16.99, not a high price to pay for someone who gave 30 years of service to the Army, the United States, and the fight against communism.
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VA and Other News
These are claims for disabilities that developed as a result of or were worsened by another service-connected condition. In other words, it is recognized that a service-connected disability may cause a second disability. This second disability may not otherwise be considered service-connected.
A Veteran has a service-connected knee injury that causes him to walk with a limp. He subsequently develops arthritis in his hip. Although the arthritic condition was not incurred during or aggravated by service, service connection may still be established if the arthritis is a result of his knee condition.
A Veteran was in the Army for twenty years. During her military service, she was diagnosed with hypertension. After her discharge, a service connection was established for hypertension. She was subsequently diagnosed with a heart condition. Service-connection for her heart condition may be established as secondary to hypertension.
In a rare move, Army CID raises the reward to $50K to solve paratrooper's mysterious death.
James R. Webb Military Times
For more than a year, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, or CID, has been unable to find a concrete lead in the May 2020 homicide of Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez.
Now, CID is offering up to $50,000 for credible information concerning the death of the 21-year-old Fort Bragg paratrooper, who went missing late at night on May 22, 2020, while camping with fellow soldiers near Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina.
"This is the first one to hit this level in more than 10 years," CID spokesman Jeffrey Castro said of the large sum of money being offered for information.
The increased reward follows an extensive investigation that does not appear to have generated any tangible leads. The sister of Roman-Martinez said the case still "doesn't make sense," and she remains suspicious of the soldiers with whom her brother camped that weekend.
"Until they let me speak to these individuals, I will never be convinced it wasn't them," she said.
A specialized task force was created to investigate Roman-Martinez's death, comprising CID special agents, FBI personnel, and the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. The task force executed 100 warrants and subpoenas and 400 interviews across North Carolina, Michigan, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and California, according to a CID statement.
"I have been a criminal investigator for more than 40 years and have worked hundreds of death investigations," CID Special Agent Steve Chancellor, who is spearheading the investigation, said in the statement. "This tragic death is a real mystery on what exactly happened."
So far, the task force has not recovered a single piece of physical, forensic, or testimonial evidence linking anyone to the death of Roman-Martinez, according to Chancellor. That includes 130 items of physical evidence and five terabytes of digital data.
"All logical theories or suspicions that were developed to date have been investigated and either discounted or disproven," Chancellor said. "We have and are still looking at all possibilities but need the public's help."
While Roman-Martinez's death is ruled a homicide, according to Chancellor, it doesn't necessarily mean it was a murder.
"That means that the death could have been intentional, or it could have been unintentional — for example, in this case, someone running over someone with a boat while the person was in the water," Chancellor said.
The severed head of Roman-Martinez washed up near Cape Lookout National Seashore on May 29, 2020, a week after he had gone missing during a camping trip with seven fellow soldiers.
Roman-Martinez's older sister, Griselda Martinez, has in previous interviews with Army Times said she worries that those soldiers haven't been completely truthful.
"I still feel that way," Griselda Martinez said again on Monday. "They had a whole day to cover anything up. They also had the weather conditions on their side."
When the other soldiers first reported Roman-Martinez missing, they told the 911 dispatcher at 7:30 p.m. on May 23, 2020, that the last time they saw their fellow camper was at midnight the night before.
"When we woke up, he was not here, and we've been looking for him all day," an unidentified caller says in the 911 call previously obtained by Army Times. "We were trying to find a Park Ranger or their offices, or anything, and so we went all the way to the ferry and found that we needed to dial 911."
However, early in the afternoon, Park Rangers did encounter the group and asked them to move their vehicles, according to Cape Lookout National Seashore spokesman B.G. Horvat. The group was parked too close to sand dunes, an important park resource, and asking them to move was a routine request, Horvat confirmed to Army Times in July 2020.
"The Rangers moved on after hearing the group would comply, [and] did not make mention to the Rangers at this point that anyone was missing from their group," Horvat said in an email. "You would have to ask members of the group why they didn't report a missing person then."
The unidentified 911 caller also said their group was "afraid [Roman-Martinez] might've hurt himself." And though he was undiagnosed, they claimed he had "suicidal tendencies," an allegation his family disputed.
"It still doesn't explain why they lied to police officials and authorities. And quite frankly, why they lied to police saying my brother was suicidal," she said. "It just doesn't make sense."
Army CID and the FBI are strongly encouraging asking anyone with information to come forward.
If you were operating a boat near Cape Lookout National Seashore on the night of May 22-23, 2020, and recall hitting something in the water, or if you have any other information, regardless of how trivial it might seem, please come forward, said Chancellor.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Army CID Special Agents at 910-396-8777 or the Fort Bragg Military Police Desk at 910-396-1179. Information can be reported anonymously to https://www.cid.army.mil/report-a-crime.html.
Families urge using new DNA tech to ID Pearl Harbor unknowns
Audrey McAvoy, The Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) - William Edward Mann enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in rural Washington state. A guitar player, he picked up the ukulele while stationed in Hawaii.
He's been presumed dead since Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor and set off a massive explosion that sank his battleship, the Arizona, launching the U.S. into World War II.
Now, his niece is among some families of crew members who are demanding the U.S. military take advantage of advances in DNA technology to identify 85 sailors and Marines from the Arizona who were buried as unknowns. They say the military has disinterred and identified remains from other Pearl Harbor battleships and should do the same for their loved ones.
"These men matter, and they served. They gave their lives for our country. And they deserve the same honor and respect as any other service member past, present, and future," Teri Mann Whyatt said.
The Arizona suffered more loss of life than any other ship at Pearl Harbor, with 1,177 dead. More than 900 went down with the ship and have remained entombed there ever since.
As with remains on other sunken ships, the Navy considers those aboard the Arizona to be in their final resting place. The families are not advocating for them to be removed and identified.
The issue is what to do with the 85 Arizona unknowns buried in a Hawaii cemetery. It emerged in February when the director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is tasked with finding and identifying the remains of U.S. service members from past conflicts, was asked during a Facebook Live meeting when the agency would disinter them.
Kelly McKeague said his agency had spoken to the Navy about exhuming the Arizona unknowns and moving them to the ship without identifying them first. McKeague said it didn't make "pragmatic sense" to identify them.
That outraged some families who feared the 85 remains would be placed on the sunken battleship without ever being identified.
The agency has since said it doesn't plan to move the cemetery remains onto the ship. Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, the agency's deputy director, said that was just a possibility discussed informally a few years ago.
Banaji also said the agency doesn't plan to disinter the remains and try to identify them because it lacks sufficient documentation.
The military has files on just half of those missing from the Arizona, he said. Of those, it has medical records - listing age, height, and other information - for just half. It has dental records for only 130 men. Some documents are believed to have been destroyed with the battleship. Others may have been lost in a 1973 fire at a military personnel records office.
And the military only has DNA samples from relatives of just 1 percent of the missing Arizona crew members.
McKeague told The Associated Press that what he said about identifications not being pragmatic referred to the lack of documentation, not the cost.
"We must apply our limited resources in a manner that is equitable to all families and to do so as efficiently and effectively as possible," he said in a statement.
The agency, which aims to find more than 80,000 service members missing from World War II and on, has successfully identified unknowns from the battleship Oklahoma, which also capsized during the Pearl Harbor bombing.
In 2015, the agency dug up the remains of 388 Oklahoma sailors and Marines from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the same graveyard where the Arizona unknowns are buried.
It acted after the military-drafted a new policy allowing the disinterment of groups of unknown servicemen if it expected to identify at least 60 percent of the group.
The agency had dental records, age, and height information for the vast majority of the Oklahoma unknowns. The military also had family DNA samples for more than 80 percent.
The agency predicted it would identify 80 percent of the Oklahoma remains, which were buried comingled in 61 caskets. As of this month, it has identified 344, or 88 percent, and anticipates naming more.
A group of families led by Randy Stratton, whose father, Donald Stratton, suffered severe burns as a sailor on the Arizona but lived to be 97, has drafted a petition demanding that the agency identify the 85 Arizona unknowns.
He's vowed to help families submit DNA samples. He's also been pushing for the agency to use genetic genealogy techniques like those used by law enforcement to solve cold cases.
Stratton said about 30 to 40 families of Arizona unknowns have joined him.
From a scientific perspective, there isn't much stopping the military from identifying the Arizona remains, said Michael Coble, associate director of the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas.
"It's definitely going to be a huge undertaking. But I think the technology has evolved that this kind of work could be done," said Coble, who was chief of research at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory from 2006 to 2010.
The lab, which dates to 1991, has long used DNA to identify remains for the military.
One newer method uses so-called SNPs, which are unique to an individual - except for identical twins - and provide a kind of fingerprint. The lab hasn't been able to make much use of this technique because it's been unable to obtain adequate SNP profiles from degraded remains. Last month, however, it completed a project to get those samples.
This technique would help the lab distinguish between individuals even when it's only able to extract tiny fragments of DNA. SNPs are the same type of DNA sample that services like Ancestry.com and 23andMe use to help match people with long-lost relatives or learn their propensity for certain diseases.
DNA profiles from this technique could theoretically be used for the kind of investigative genetic genealogy work that Stratton advocates.
Tim McMahon, head of DNA operations for the Defense Department, said researchers could take samples that failed to find matches in the lab's in-house database and upload those to publicly available, private-sector DNA databases to look for potential cousins or other relatives. Genealogists could then study marriage licenses, birth records, and other documents to make closer potential matches, which would then have to be confirmed with additional DNA tests.
Using such databases raises privacy concerns because relatives of the missing may not want their family's genetic information shared. The military would need to develop policies to protect privacy - for example, by potentially allowing researchers to upload an anonymous DNA profile of an unidentified serviceman.
But first, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency would have to decide that it wants to identify the Arizona unknowns.
For Stratton, it would be worth it.
"Why wouldn't you want to find out who these guys are?" Stratton said.
Saginaw Grant, a Korean War Marine veteran, noted Native American character actor, dies.
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Saginaw Grant, a Marine veteran who served during the Korean War then went on to become a prolific Native American character actor and hereditary chief of the Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma, has died. He was 85.
Grant died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes on Wednesday at a private care facility in Hollywood, California, said Lani Carmichael, Grant's publicist, and longtime friend.
"He loved both Oklahoma and L.A.," Carmichael said. "He made his home here as an actor, but he never forgot his roots in Oklahoma. He remained a fan of the Sooner Nation."
Born July 20, 1936, in Pawnee, Oklahoma, Grant was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served during the Korean War, according to the Chicago Community Trust.
He began acting in the late 1980s and played character roles in dozens of movies and television shows over the last three decades, including "The Lone Ranger," "The World's Fastest Indian," and "Breaking Bad," according to Grant's IMDB filmography.
Grant was active for years in the powwow circuit in California and traveled around the globe to speak to people about Native American culture, Carmichael said.
"His motto in life was always respect one another and don't talk about one another in a negative way," she said.
Grant was also active in the Native American veteran's community and participated for years in the National Gathering of American Indian Veterans, said Joseph Podlasek, the event's organizer.
"He thought it was important for Native people to get recognized as veterans," Podlasek said. "He was kind and gentle and very humble."
A memorial for Grant will be held in the Los Angeles area, but details haven't been finalized, Carmichael said.
Grafenwoehr museum exhibit remembers 37 US soldiers who died in the 1971 helicopter crash.
BY IMMANUEL JOHNSON STARS AND STRIPES
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - The 37 young U.S. soldiers who died nearly 50 years ago when the helicopter they were in exploded and crashed in a field near the West German town of Pegnitz, north of Nuremberg, are being remembered in an exhibit at the Museum for Cultural and Military History in Grafenwoehr.
The exhibit, titled "Forever in our thoughts," seeks to preserve the memory of the victims of the Aug. 18, 1971, crash, which Stars and Stripes reported at the time was the worst training accident involving American troops in West Germany since the end of World War II.
Everyone on board the Chinook helicopter carrying them from Ludwigsburg to the Grafenwoehr Training Area for a live-fire exercise - four crew from the 4th Aviation Company and 33 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 56th Field Artillery Brigade - died in the accident, Stars and Stripes reported following the accident.
"Most of the victims were between 19 and 26 years old," the German-run museum says on its website. "On the 50th anniversary, this exhibit is bringing the tragedy back into the public consciousness."
The exhibit, which opened July 22, features photos, newspaper articles, and letters collected by Pegnitz archivist Andreas Bayerlein. They tell the stories of the lives lost and of grieving family members like Beth Hartman, who married Pfc. Roger Madison Hartman on Aug. 31, 1970, the day he turned 20, and she turned 18.
"A year later, instead of celebrating their first wedding anniversary and their birthdays, Beth buried her husband," news website Onetz.de wrote this week.
The crash happened when a rotor blade came loose, smashed into the Chinook, and caused an explosion, the museum said.
The exhibit will run at the museum until Aug. 10 before moving to the Pegnitz community center in time for the 50th anniversary of the crash, Onetz reported. It will remain there from Aug. 16 to Oct. 17.
A ceremony remembering the victims of the crash will be held in Pegnitz on Aug. 18.